Music Study – The Trombone

One of the most beautiful and powerful voices in the modern orchestra is the TROMBONE. Admirable in expressing strong and noble sentiments, it becomes simply ridiculous when it is meanly reduced to marking time, or reinforcing the bass in dance music, which proves the nobility of its character.

As in the case of the horn and trumpet, we are here confronted with two instruments which, although bearing the same name, are very different and possess individual qualities : the slide trombone, which is the real trombone, the instrument of pomp and majesty par excellence, and the trombone à pistons the sole advantage of which is that it is easier. to learn and to handle, and lends itself better to the execution of rapid passages which do not befit its solemn character and by their very velocity deprive it of a great and the most beautiful part of its prestige and dignity.

Every conscientious trombone-player then, who is desirous of becoming an artist, should first make himself master of the considerable difficulties presented by the slide trombone. If afterwards he wishes to acquire the trombone à pistons, this will be for him a matter of six weeks, or two months at most.

One can hardly undertake the study of the trombone, the hardest of all the brass instruments, before having attained full growth ; it is therefore difficult to state the age precisely. We may, however, call fifteen the limit of youth, for there are several instances of pupils of that age who have gone through their studies in good condition ; and twenty-five as the highest limit, beyond which it would seem difficult to accustom the lips to exercise with required force the pressure necessary to obtain a beautiful sonority, supple and firm at the same time. However, if one has already played any other brass instrument whatsoever, and if one has by this means acquired the facility of embouchure, one can begin to study the trombone at any age.

Because of the fatigue it brings, one should never, even though well accustomed to it, work more than a few minutes at a time, and never more than four hours a day ; at the beginning, two hours are amply sufficient. Firm and tough lips and a solid and well-formed jaw are necessary.

Of the slide trombone as well as of the piston, there are instruments of three different sizes, called alto-trombone, tenor trombone and bass-trombone,* all three being equally employed in the orchestra, and almost always simultaneously.

The music for the trombones being written sometimes in the alto, sometimes in the bass and sometimes in the tenor clef, a knowledge of these three clefs is useful to the trombone-player.

It is the custom to exercise first upon the tenor trombone ; and when that is learned, little difficulty is experienced in playing upon the others ; it is only the matter of a few days.